Gateway to the Classics: Our Empire Story by H. E. Marshall
Our Empire Story by  H. E. Marshall

The Storming of the Bat's Nest

Heke was yet far from making peace. He and his friends in their new fastness at Ikorangi were dancing the war-dance, and singing songs of exultation—

"An attack! an attack! E ha!

A battle! a battle! E ha!

A fight on the banks of the river.

It is completely swept and emptied.

O you would fight, you would fight.

You had better stayed at home in Europe

Than have suffered a repulse from Whareahau.

He has driven you back to your God.

You may cast your book behind,

And leave your religion on the ground.

An attack! an attack! E ha!

A battle! a battle! E ha!"

Heke's fame grew greater and greater, for had he not twice defeated "the wearers of red garments." Peace was far from his thoughts, and Governor Fitzroy was about to attack him again, when he was recalled. The British Government were not pleased at the way in which the colony was drifting into war, and Captain George Grey was sent to take Fitzroy's place.

Captain Grey made up his mind to have no more fighting if that were possible. He sent messengers to the rebel chiefs, saying that if they would yield before a certain date, they would be pardoned, and that if they had been in any way wronged, they should have justice.

But Heke would not yield, and once more the war began. This time the Maori forces were divided. Heke was at Ikorangi, and his friend Kawiti at Ruapekapeka, the Bat's Nest. It was upon the Bat's Nest that the attack was made. It was a pah like Oheawai and Okaihau, but far stronger than either. For between the huge wooden fences there was a great mud wall against which cannon balls were of little use.

The British force was now much stronger than before. They had more and heavier guns, but still for days the bombardment went on with little result. Then one day Heke arrived to join his friends, bringing many more warriors with him. The next day being Sunday, the Maoris thought there would be no fighting, for the missionaries had taught them to keep it as a day of rest. So they all gathered in the outworks for prayer, leaving the fort almost unguarded.

The British, however, had no thought of keeping Sunday. A friendly Maori, seeing how quiet it was within the pah, crept close up to the walls. Finding them unguarded, he made signs to the British. Quickly they charged, and before the Maoris realised what was happening, the red-coats had possession of the fort.

Now the very strength of the pah was turned against the Maoris. Secure behind the massive ramparts, the British fired upon the foe. A fierce fight followed. But to dislodge the British from their strong position was impossible, and at last the Maoris fled to the woods.

Tired of the fight, the followers of Heke and Kawiti now scattered and fled. They had little food left; starvation and death stared them in the face.

"Can shadows carry muskets?" they said. And so the army melted away. In a few days Heke and Kawiti found themselves almost alone. The end had come. At last the proud chieftains sued for peace.

"Friend Governor, let peace be made between you and me," wrote Kawiti. "I have had enough of your cannon-balls, therefore I say let us make peace. Will you not? Yes. This is the end of my war against you. Friend Governor, I, Kawiti and Heke, do consent to this good message. It is finished."

Now that the rebel chiefs were in his power. Sir George was merciful. He pardoned all who had taken part in the rebellion, and allowed them to remain in possession of their lands. But Heke's proud, restless spirit could not bear the bonds of peace. He pined away, and died at the age of forty-two. As for his old friend Kawiti, he lived to the age of eighty, and then died of measles, a new disease brought into the country by the white men.

There were many who thought that Governor Grey had been too gentle with Heke and Kawiti and the other rebels. Many thought that they ought to have been punished. But time showed that Sir George was right, for the peace was lasting, and left no bitterness behind. Not while Heke or Kawiti lived, however, was the flagstaff at Kororarika put up again. But in 1857 Kawiti's son led four hundred of his people to the spot, and in token of friendship they raised a new flagstaff. They called it Whakakotahitanga, which means "being in union," and to this day the Union Jack floats from it.

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